There is a myth that has caused immeasurable grief throughout history. It is the myth of free-will. Physical and mental punishment has been a social management tool since modern man evolved. Its application has been based on the assumption that bad people freely choose to be bad and good people freely choose to be good. Without this belief, there would be no religion.
A worm seems to be making a choice when it prefers one type of food over another. A starfish will seem prefer to move in one direction over another. We know that neither has a brain to make a conscious choice. And yet, they seem to be making them. The feeling that you have a free-will is evidence of nothing more than you have had a feeling. Without any neuroscientific background, the observations you as a layperson have made should be enough for you to suspect that when you are freely making a choice: you are actually having an illusion.
There is the herd instinct in investments, the mass hysteria at rock concerts and the ‘oceanic feeling’ at Pentecostal gatherings. It appears as if a switch in the brain has been flicked over to another program - which then flicks back again when outside the influence of others.
We all have observed that a person (such as a highly political person or a ‘spiritual’ person) cannot be persuaded to adopt a belief that was alien to their existing way of thinking. What better description can there be than that his brain has been programmed? This flesh-and-blood robot cannot choose an alternative path.
No matter how hard they try, some normally strong people cannot give up smoking and gambling. How can a person who has raised children on a small income or fought cancer be so weak-willed - or is there a hardwired neural network in control when a cigarette or poker machine is staring back at its victim to-be?
There is the shame you feel when you have been persuaded to buy what you never really wanted. How was a salesperson able to select a path for you that you did not wish to go down? If your power to choose freely is so deeply part of you, then how can a hypnotist have you quacking like a duck in under a minute?
Then there is the direct evidence that the brain is a mechanism running on programs. Your infant son makes poor choices due to his lack of fully formed machinery. Grandma makes poor choices due to loss of parts of her machinery. You become a psychiatric patient due to you now making choices that once you would never have made.
There is one very familiar evidence of sand in the machine. The chemical structure of the molecule ethanol was derived as far back as 1808. There on paper can be a little drawing of what causes you to make idiotic choices at a boozy party.
But the most direct evidence is when a spanner has been dropped into the works. These are the personality changes which can occur and which lead to uncharacteristic choices being made after a physical head injury or a stroke.
What about the little things? Upon stepping into a shop, there can be no doubt in your mind that you could have chosen to walk right by. But, in reality, you did not have a choice. You stepped into the shop because your brain ordered you to go in. Your experiences over recent days or weeks or months or years enabled the pattern of brain cells required to support the decision to step into the shop to become increasingly hardwired and, as a consequence, easily switched on and, thus, enabling electrical charges to flow. The network which would command you to walk-by and save money remained switched off due to a lack of sufficient stimulation.
If there seems to be almost nothing between you deciding not to go into the shop, and going in, then this is analogous to a marble carefully placed to balance on a knife edge. Will it fall to the left or right? When it does fall then it is obvious that it could not have fallen any other way because the forces being directed on one side, although infinitesimally small, were greater than the forces being directed on the other side.
The history of brain development says it all
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